Alexander (2004) Film Review, a movie directed by Oliver Stone and starring Colin Farrell, Angelina Jolie, Val Kilmer, Anthony Hopkins, Jared Leto, Rosario Dawson, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Rory McCann, Gary Stretch, Ian Beattie, Neil Jackson, Raz Degan, Christopher Plummer, John Kavanagh, and Annelise Hesme.
Subtlety is overrated. Say what you will about Oliver Stone, but he’s never made a boring movie, as hectoring headaches as they are. Okay, confession, his previous work (1999’s “Any Given Sunday”) did feel like a long four-quarter game of being pummelled in the head with a football. But worse is “Alexander,” a ponderous, interminable, often outlandish historical epic of Alexander the Great that isn’t deserving of “great.”
Stone’s interpretation tells rather than shows, lumbers along, and drones on and on for an eternity in dog hours, all the while failing to illuminate its own heroic subject. Each of the “Lord of the Rings” movies were this long, even longer, but never this boring and wordy.
Physically well-cast as Macedonia’s Alexander the Great of 300 BC, the roguish, buff Colin Farrell (with a goldielocks ‘doo) can’t quite pull off much of a character with no help from the outline of a script that needed more meat on its bones. He’s a lover, not much of a fighter. His king father Philip (a one-eyed Val Kilmer) is an abusive drunkard but tells a young Alexander that “a king isn’t born, he’s made,” and his mother, Olympias, is a malicious sorceress who insists he marry a Macedonian woman, so he marries Persian princess Roxane (Rosario Dawson). Alexander’s longtime cloe friend, Hephaistion (Jared Leto), remains the only one he trusts and loves. Once Philip is killed, Alexander is crowned king, conquered the Persian Empire, Egypt, and India in eight years, and died at 32. If you’re hoping to get a history lesson from Alexander, you’ll learn more from a Wikipedia site than this CliffNotes version.
The “and then this happened” storytelling is mostly inert, throwing dates and places at us, and we never get inside the head of the great leader. There’s an incoherent battle scene at Gaugamela that’s won at the one hour mark, but the second (and last) battle in India doesn’t occur until 90 minutes after. At least it has bloodshed and armored, stampeding elephants, and shows more pearls of Stone’s ferocious filmmaking style as he shoots it with red filters. This Big Battle breaks the tedium, in a case of too little, too late, as do the random accents of the international cast and some absurdly juicy histrionics.
Jolie (only a year older than Farrell) offers the most firey spark as the sultry, slithery Olympias, cuddling with her pet snakes and rolling her R’s in a bizarre, Natasha Fatale accent. It’s an enjoyably rabid, campy performance. And a snarling Rosario Dawson, playing Alexander’s hellcat wife, is amusing; their one animalistic, at-knife-point sex scene ensures titillating giggles. Leto earnestly undresses Farrell with his glam-rocker, eye-liner-heavy baby blues as his loyally pretty boy toy. There’s definitely a homoerotic subtext here that’s probably the film’s only courageous attribute; he constantly hugs Hephaistion and in a merely suggested scene, an effeminate servant twink “services” Alexander. Alas, Anthony Hopkins is saddled with giving a shut-up-already narration, practically reading from a textbook, as Our Teacher and Alexander’s boyhood friend Ptolemy.
Production and costume design are usually a sure thing for such a sweeping, big-budget epic as this, and don’t disappoint here, but “Alexander” is a colossal miscalculation on Grecian wheels. Ambitious as he is, Stone doesn’t exactly make a return to form with this long-gestating passion project. Rather than drumming his distinctive energy, passion, and style onto the screen, it’s just confusingly directed and needlessly bloated to 3 hours. Even the most ardent history buff and Stone supporter will be sorely disappointed. In the end, squarely because of “Alexander” the movie, one question remains: what was so great about Alexander the conqueror?